The following is a guest post submitted by Shelley Branine, who tells of her experience being kicked out of church, and how that turned out to be a good thing.
“God told me that I have done nothing wrong.” A girl I once knew told me, her voice shaking in defense.
Really? I thought without emotion. Because he told me that you’re a complete idiot.
My husband and I shared this conversation with the people who kicked us out of our small, nondenominational church. Of course, church leaders rarely actually tell you when you’re being kicked out. They’re much more passive aggressive. Instead, they do things like call all of your friends and tell them that you’re a divisive gossip. They also abruptly remove you from all mailing distribution and correspondence. If you’re as naive as we were, they sit you down for two hours, forcing you to listen to an unending list of things they believe you’ve done wrong. And sometimes, they’ll even threaten you with “church discipline.”
The foundation crumbled when we started asking questions about how money was being spent and the lifestyle of some of the leaders doing the spending. We weren’t the only members wondering, just the only ones brave enough to ask. I was shocked to discover that such simple questions would cause so much anger, fear and defense. Our intention and demeanors were not harsh or critical. We simply and politely asked for answers.
In the weeks that followed, I started asking more questions. Why are Christians the most malicious people I’ve ever met? And since meanness seems to come so naturally to them, do I really want to affiliate myself with that kind of cruelty? I also questioned the loving, all powerful God that I once thought existed and wondered why he didn’t pick better people to be his representatives. I didn’t understand how my unbelieving neighbors and coworkers could demonstrate more kindness and morality than those from my church. Until then, I never allowed myself to ask these kinds of questions because I always feared that leaving the church would be the worst decision I could ever make.
It turned out, however, that the worst decision ended up being the best.
In a scene from Mama Mia, one of my favorite Broadway shows, the mother tells her daughter the story of how her own mom disowned her when she was 17 and pregnant. Before the daughter in the show can begin to utter words of apology or pity, the mother firmly interrupts by saying, “And I’m better for it.”
Since leaving the church, I have learned to value people for who they are regardless of what they believe, without feeling like I need to “win them to Christ” and save them from their horrible selves. I’ve been able to simply enjoy a drink with a coworker without ridiculously talking religion and pressuring her into Christianity. I am free to sleep in on Sundays and no longer feel obligated to give my time and money to an organization. I can enjoy life, each moment, the simple things without cursing the hell bound world around me and then forcing myself to think heavenly thoughts.
One of the hardest days of my life was when I was yelled at for two hours by people I thought I trusted. And someday I hope to be able to shake the reality of being punished for simply asking questions. But regardless of all of the hurt feelings and confusion, I’m thankful, because I am better for it.